M+E Connections

Learning the Language of Diversity

As part of efforts to create a more inclusive industry and society, it helps to understand the subtle language used to describe our diverse communities and the challenges they face, according to diversity experts who spoke during the Diversity, Inclusion & Accessibility breakout session “Language of Diversity” that was part of the virtual SoCal Women’s Leadership Summit on Nov. 10.

During the session, iAsia Brown, co-chair of the Women in Technology Hollywood (WiTH) Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility and Belonging (DEIAB) Committee and a data and AI specialist, and Natalie Martin, VP of growth and development at Premiere Digital, discussed their career journeys and experiences in this area.

Brown started off by joking: “I like to say that in a room of right-handed people, no one cares about the left-handed person.” She noted that she went to dinner with a few of her colleagues recently and remembered there was a left-handed woman she had been to dinner with before. Brown asked her if she wanted to sit on the end of the booth so she could eat more easily.

“That meant so much to her,” Brown recalled. Although it might seem like just a small issue, she said “even the smallest accommodation” can make somebody part of a diverse community smile, she said. Brown’s accommodation “let her know that she had been seen and she had been heard…. It’s always the little things when it comes to diversity, being able to understand people – whether it’s connecting with your colleagues, your customers, your clients – that really go a long way.”

Brown also tries “learning not only peoples’ pronouns but I try to remember everyone’s name” also, she said.

But Brown admitted to “messing up” sometimes on issues pertaining to diversity, and said she acknowledges when that happens.

“In the fast-paced industry that we’re all in, it’s easy to not slow down and kind of realize that” small efforts to accommodate people from diverse communities “go a long way in getting two people to kind of work together on a project for a common goal,” according to Martin.

It is very human to say something like: ‘Hey, I understand that you have a goal and I have a goal and we can work together and do just fine. But if we take that extra step and – remember names, get to know this person, really listen and see what they are trying to accomplish and where there could be some barriers – be they cultural, language-related, what have you – taking that extra time to really approach carefully and considerately will get the job done faster.”

After all, she said, “partnerships in this business are often based on ‘do I trust this person and do I like working with this person and does this person seem to care what I’m trying to accomplish?’”

Echoing Brown, Martin said: “100 percent, I have messed up diversity and acknowledging it and trying to fix that is the first step for sure,” along with going that “extra mile” to help somebody.

Brown noted that she served in the military for 16 years – four in the Air Force and 12 in the Marine Corps – and “been on every continent except for Antarctica because COVID ruined that trip.”

During that time, “what I’ve learned is, while customs and courtesies vary from place to place, respect is universal and, if you operate from a place of just natural respect,” that goes a long way, she said. That is “because people understand that people make mistakes, they may not know, it’s not their day-to-day culture,” she noted. However, it’s “how you approach it in a respectful and/or non-respectful manner that determines the path forward,” she said.

Brown also pointed out she likes to do a social experiment with people all the time. “Whenever I come into a room – or last night I was at a meetup and when I walked in, I go to everyone…. ‘Give me an animal that starts with the letter e.’”

Playing along, Martin replied, “elephant.”

“Now give me a country that starts with the letter d,” Brown told her.

“Denmark,” replied Martin.

“That is almost 100 percent always the answer,” Brown told Martin. Most people give those two answers but there are people who say Dominican Republic for country or eagle, emu or eel for the animal and “it’s based on their experiences in the world,” Brown explained. One reason why: “A lot of toys here are baby elephants, not eels,” she noted.

“Their diversity of thought is what we need because in a room full of elephants and Denmarks, we need someone to be like ‘Well, what about the emus? What about the Dominican Republic? What about Dubai? What about all these other places that, because of our experience, we may not have been exposed to it but because of their lived experience, it’s real for them,” Brown explained.

Brown added: “I see the world completely different as a veteran…. When the sky is falling at work, I’m like, ‘Ok, what are we going to do about it?’” instead of freaking out and making a mountain out of a molehill.

“I love feedback. I love pushback,” Brown went on to say, adding: “I want to understand what [others] see from their vantage point that we can improve on because things don’t get better if we don’t get feedback.”

Martin likes to “encourage people to present their ideas and just make sure that it is kind of that open space – that’s where, I think, most of the best work gets done,” she said. “It’s Ok to have someone present something you haven’t thought of” when you’re a manager also, she noted, saying: “You really want to nurture that environment.”

Agreeing, Brown said: “One of the most important things that you can do is just listen.”

After shifting from editing to sales, Martin said she realized listening to clients was important and she didn’t want to just sell them stuff they might not need, adding it is better to build trust with clients than sell them products and services useless to them.

Meanwhile, although a growing number of women have been entering the technology sector, Browns said a lot of women still don’t realize they can go into tech. It is important that everybody knows “tech is for everybody,” she added.

Also important: Sharing knowledge and letting females at all ages know they can get into tech if they want to, according to Martin. And it is important to let them know they can use their college degrees in many different ways, she said. Her suggestion to young people: “Be open and kind of try to follow your gut on what thing will make you happy because you spend a lot of time at your job.”

Brown agreed, saying something she tries to get people to understand is “you do not have to have a background in tech to have a future in it.” You can also use whatever work background you have in the tech sector because every skill you have will translate into the tech field somehow, she stressed.